Anonymity and availability give access to more young people According to section 11, paragraph 2 of the Service Act, all municipalities in Denmark must be able to offer anonymous counselling to anyone. In most of Denmark’s municipalities, the paragraph is managed by offering counselling in person. Digital counselling is, on the other hand, defined by being ‘faceless’, and thus absolutely anonymous; a form of counselling that is not offered too many places as of yet, and which may mean that a lot of teenagers are left with no support. Johnny Szumlanski, youth counsellor at Bispebjerg in the municipality of Copenhagen, knows about this issue all too well. Johnny has observed young people wandering back and forth in front of the big windows of ‘Gadeplan’ (On the street) where he works. “They are walking around, gathering the courage to enter our (physical) counselling. And sometimes they end up not coming in,” says Johnny Szumlanski who sometimes find it difficult to reach those young people who do not feel like visiting their physical counselling. “Our youth counselling is supposed to be available to everyone, not just the ones who find the courage to show up at our door. Some of our young people may feel limited in their anonymity when they have to show up personally. It requires a lot from them, and ideally all young people, who would like to get in touch with our counselling, do so,” says Johnny Szumlanski. Johnny Szumlanski sees how their digital counselling opens up to a target group of young people who very likely would have gone unnoticed otherwise. And the reason why their digital counselling is a success, is obvious: “Using a computer in the comfort of your own home requires less effort than finding one’s way to our physical counselling, and this way we reach young people, who we would otherwise not be able to reach,” says Johnny Szumlanski, and refers to the fact that the physical as well as the mental distance inherently is shortened – with a single click. Copenhagen chat at Cyberhus.dk

Being present among young people

Cyberhus.dk is a vast universe for young people, and Cyberhus noticed a significant influx of young people from Copenhagen, counting 11,000 annual visits. “Young people are already using cyberhus.dk, and the fact that our chatroom is present on cyberhus, too, makes it easier for people to stop by”, says Johnny Szumlanski, explaining why the municipality of Copenhagen has connected with cyberhus.dk. Anchoring online youth counselling locally and offering a digital lifeline in municipalities, is important because young people need to be in touch with someone from their neighborhood who knows about their area, and who is able to guide them in the direction of other supportive measures in their municipality, Johnny Szumlanski explains. During their trial period, the municipality of Copenhagen received their own chat line on cyberhus.dk, dedicated to youth in Copenhagen between the ages of 13-17. The chat line’s opening hours totalled 130 hours allocated on a couple of weekdays. “It worked,” says Szumlanski and explains: “During our trial period, we have been in contact with approximately 60 young people. It may not sound like much, but it is,” Szumlanski says, and explains further that during the last 3 months of their trial period, the number of inquiries doubled. This number should be viewed relative to the fact that their physical youth counselling received 177 first-time inquiries during the entire year of 2014, including inquiries resulting from outreach services of youth counsellors at Bispebjerg, and opening hours being all weekdays. “I am quite certain that we would not have received our 60 inquiries, had we not had the opportunity to offer our digital anonymous counselling,” says Johnny Szumlanski.

Online counselling in line with young people

Most people know that teenagers are sensitive individuals. For this reason, Johnny Szumlanski adds that youth counsellors can always better their understanding of young people and develop their methods used to interact with them: “Teenagers are vulnerable people, and they care about what other people think of them, and therefore they are more careful that others will not figure out what happens around them. And so, it requires a lot before they make contact with us,” Johnny Szumlanski says and emphasises the importance of letting the counselling take place in line with the youngsters themselves – in their element. Here, in our digital space. Answering the question whether or not it is possible at all to create presence with young people through the screen, Johnny Szumlanski says that it is definitely possible when using the right choice of wording and an open-minded approach, characterised by the ability to listen and being solution-oriented. However, the meeting is prone to be more “harsh” online than in the physical counselling, because the ones you are speaking to have the ability to log off anytime. “But that is also okay, because they have taken the first step, and they know that they are welcome back to our chatroom.” So, Johnny Szumlanski has no doubt that online counselling is the right direction for municipalities in the future, as a supplement to the physical counselling. “We are dealing with the google generation. They google everything – also when they find life difficult. Young people move around online, thus contact with young people can be established online,” Johnny Szumlanski states and adds that he sees great potential in developing digital counsellings accommodating other needs, for instance counsellings targeting relatives and young people over the age of 18.]]>

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